When I was two years old, and my parents and I had been living in Manhattan for about a year, we had a visit from some out-of-town relatives. Because it was a special occasion, my mom and dad dressed me up and took me out to a fancy sushi restaurant with our visitors. I probably ate some pasta or soy beans while my parents and their guests ordered the more sophisticated yellowtail rolls and tempura.
Late into the evening, I – situated in my highchair – spotted something out of the corner of my eye. Resting on my dad’s empty plate was a tiny cup of what I assumed could only be a bit green play-dough. Of course, being the ambitious toddler I was, I took the mysterious green goo, rolled it into a ball with my fingers, and stuck it in my mouth. Several hours of screaming ensued and ample tears were shed as a result of the inhuman amount of wasabi that I’d just consumed.
Before you jump to conclusions, let me quell your “what the hell is this kid talking about?”-esque concerns. The moral of the story is that, needless to say, I stayed away from wasabi for a long time after that. To this day, I still avoid spicy food in almost every form.
Imposed regime change is America’s wasabi. Assessing the extent of this country’s military responsibility in Libya is no more complicated than a toddler’s unfortunate run-in with spicy food. The lesson is evident: nine years ago, a dictator was oppressing his people, our military became heavily involved, and we never really left. The President is making use of his hindsight. He is at odds with the idea of being an accomplice to history’s repetitions.
Blanketing the world with democracy is not the prerogative of the United States. It is not our job – nor should it be – to paint the Middle East red, white, and blue. Our forefathers came here as an extension of an empire and proceeded to break the imperial grip. The President is historically and analytically correct in believing that regime change comes not out of the the bombshells of a fighter jet, but from the power of human organization and assembly.
When I’m slumped on my bed, clicking the “refresh” button on my MacBook’s internet browser time and again, I see the horrific images: I watch the bodies pile in Tripoli, terrified children hide under houses in Benghazi. I watch the flames emanate from a Tunisian twenty-something’s t-shirt, and see the smudged tears trickle down the bloody face of a would-be martyr in Tehran. But strength is derived from meticulous consistency. The lead-up to this conflict has been eerily similar to that of Iraq’s, so it is wise to weigh our actions based on past mistakes rather than to foolishly cross our fingers and hope that this time is different.
Our responsibility to the people of Libya is to be their watchdog, to shield them from imminent death, and to remain vigilant and attentive until their anxieties have faded. “But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake,” said Obama tonight. He’s right. Because he knows that America has tried the wasabi – and he knows that we didn’t like it the first time around.